How Jerry and Marge Selbee won $39 million with nothing but ‘simple maths’

Jerry and Marge have won the lottery not once, but too many times to count — and luck had nothing to do with it.

Jerry and Marge Selbee are multimillionaires but you wouldn’t know it to look at them.

They’ve lived in the same home they’ve had for 65 years in the tiny town of Evart, Michigan. 

This modest existence belies the extraordinary life they’ve been living since retiring in 2003.

Jerry and Marge Selbee are multimillionaires, but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. (60 Minutes)

Jerry and Marge have won the lottery not once, but too many times to count — and luck had nothing to do with it. 

“It was just simple maths. Anyone could have done it,” Jerry said.

Jerry had always been good with numbers, so when he saw a new lotto game being advertised, he picked a loophole very few others did.

‘I did not have to be lucky to win. I had to be unlucky to lose’

The game, called WinFall, had a unique feature: if the jackpot reached US$5 million ($7 million) and failed to go off, the money would roll down to ticket holders with fewer winning numbers.

“I looked at the probabilities of the game and it said that when the WinFall actually occurred and no one won the jackpot, that the prize level would go up by a factor of 10,” Jerry said.

They’ve lived in the same home they’ve had for 65 years in the tiny town of Evart, Michigan. (60 Minutes)

“US$50 for a three-number winner and US$1,000 for a four-number winner and the odds were one in, one in 56 and a half for a three-number winner and one in 1032 for a four-number winner.”

While it dramatically improved players’ chances of cashing in, Jerry quickly realised it could also be exploited.

“Most people are conditioned that [the] lottery is structured so that if you’re lucky, you win,” he told reporter Liz Hayes.

“I did not have to be lucky to win. I had to be unlucky to lose.”

60 Minutes reporter Liz Hayes. (60 Minutes)

Once he worked out how often the jackpot went off, he tentatively decided to put his maths to the test — and it worked.

“I think what was making me nervous is trying to believe in myself,” he laughed.

“I think it was so easy that it was hard for me to believe.”

Jerry spent weeks secretly withdrawing his hard-earned retirement cash to buy more tickets, before he finally decided to come clean to his wife of 65 years.

I did not have to be lucky to win. I had to be unlucky to lose. He said. (60 Minutes)

“I knew it was time to tell her because my next play was gonna be US$15,000 (about $21,000),” he recalled.

To his surprise, Marge was on board right away and joined him in the lucrative syndicate.

“He does this stuff all the time, so I believed him,” Marge told 60 Minutes

Before too long, they had started making millions, but it wasn’t easy winnings.

After 65 years together, it seemed there was still plenty the Selbees could learn about each other. (60 Minutes)

The couple had to buy hundreds of thousands of tickets, a process that became more complicated when the WinFall was shut down in Michigan. 

‘It was not about what he would buy, it’s about the joy of winning, of playing the game, of being involved’

They found another lottery with the same feature 1600 kilometres away in Massachusetts, but it meant driving for 15 hours to keep the money rolling in.

“I would start at 5am in the morning,” Jerry recalled.

“And then I would quit for the evening about 6pm or 7pm so that I could take her to dinner.” 

Not much has changed for Jerry and Marge since making their fortune. (60 Minutes)

Unsurprisingly, their highly successful scheme eventually caught the attention of suspicious investigators. 

But Jerry and Marge were doing nothing wrong — they’d simply done the maths, looking at the lotto as a game of strategy instead of a game of chance. 

Their remarkable story seems tailor-made for the silver screen, so it comes as no surprise it has been turned into a film for streaming service Paramount+.

‘It gives you purpose, because once you retire, what do you do with all that time?’

Playing Jerry in Jerry and Marge Go Large is Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, who didn’t think it was ever really about the money.

“It was not about what he would buy, it’s about the joy of winning, of playing the game, of being involved,” the actor said.

Playing Jerry is Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston who didn’t think it was ever really about the money. (60 Minutes)

“I think my favourite part of the whole story is that this adventure for Jerry and Marge created an opportunity to reignite that romantic flare.”

The real Jerry agrees. After 65 years together, it seemed there was still plenty the Selbees could learn about each other.

“We learned that we could work together, that we could travel together,” Jerry said.

“I loved her just as much then and now as I did when I was 15.”

Jerry and Marge have won the lottery not once but too many times to count and luck had nothing to do with it. (60 Minutes)

Not much has changed for Jerry and Marge since making their fortune, which they’ve spent mainly on education for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

It seems they wanted nothing more than a little excitement.

“It was something to do and something to look forward to every couple of months,” Marge said.

“It gives you purpose, because once you retire, what do you do with all that time?” 

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